Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
For years, Cecile Richard, ruled the roost. Since the former labor organizer was named president of Planned Parenthood, she has emerged as a key ally of President Obama and has been celebrated as one of the most influential women in the United States.
But “the times they are a changin’,” as they say. A slew of undercover videos that appear to show Planned Parenthood affiliates trafficking in the sale of fetal body parts have badly damaged the moral credibility the nation's largest abortion provider. Today, Sept. 29, Richards is testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating whether Planned Parenthood, which receives over $500 million annually in taxpayer funds, may have broken the law.
Richards has leveraged her vast political capital to shut down the allegations, and her many allies in the Democratic Party have rushed to Planned Parenthood's defense, with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, among others, calling for an investigation of the Center for Medical Progress.
But whatever happens on Capitol Hill, she now faces a new, unexpected foe in Carly Fiorina. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO has used the undercover videos as a lethal weapon in her campaign against Democrats who loyally back the organization.
Further, Fiorina's standout performance in the second debate for GOP presidential hopefuls has drawn grudging support from left-leaning feminists, and prompted some commentators and voters to question whether true feminists must embrace abortion rights.
First, let's take a look at recent highlights of Fiorina's busy calendar, and her largely successful effort to tamp down criticism that threatened to sideline her own campaign.
Planned Parenthood has attacked Fiorina's comments about the organization during the GOP debate, where she described an undercover video tape that had an image of "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, 'We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.'"
Then, last Thursday, Fiorina turned the heat on Planned Parenthood.
"Interestingly, no one has denied that babies are being butchered for their body parts in Planned Parenthood clinics and elsewhere," she said, during a visit to a crisis pregnancy center in Spartanburg, S.C., where she brought reporters for a first-hand tour.
The New York Times offered this snapshot from the pro-life clinic, where Fiorina spoke with a patient in an examination room:
“It’s good when people know what 17 weeks look like,” Mrs. Fiorina told Lacey Thomas, who was flat on her back, as the two eyed a large-screen television magnifying the ultrasound’s images.
...“Liberals and progressives will spend inordinate amounts of time and money protecting fish, frogs and flies,” Mrs. Fiorina said, adding: “They do not think a 17-week-old, a 20-week-old, a 24-week-old is worth saving. This, ladies and gentlemen, is hypocrisy, and it goes to the core of the character of our nation.”
By Saturday, Planned Parenthood was on the war path.
When Fiorina made a campaign appearance in Iowa City, a group of protestors — some of whom were reportedly paid by Planned Parenthood — disrupted her speech with chants and threw condoms.
When television reporters asked for her reaction to the protests, she kept the spot light on Planned Parenthood.
"I think we're making a difference, that's my reaction," Fiorina said. "I think they're scared that the people of America are starting to look at what's really going on in a Planned Parenthood clinic." A YouTube video offers a more complete record of Fiorina's remarks, including her charge that when taxpayer funds go to Planned Parenthood, the organization passes along some of that money to the campaigns of "pro-abortion Democratic candidates."
On Sunday, Fiorina kept up the drumbeat on NBC's Meet the Press.
When Chuck Todd asked whether "Republicans in Congress should force a government shutdown" over the funding of Planned Parenthood, Fiorina reframed the question as a problem for Democrats, not the GOP:
"I believe if the president of the United States and Democrats are willing to stand up and defend for what is roughly $500 million to $600 million line item in a budget, if they are willing to stand up and defend this practice and shut down the government over it, then let them explain it to the American people," she said.
The nation is becoming more pro-life, so many voters will applaud Fiorina's full bore attack on Planned Parenthood, while her record at HP continues to raise questions.
However, Carly is also having an impact on left-leaning feminists, who have embraced abortion rights as an article of faith, but savor her ability to deflect Donald Trump's boorish remarks about her looks.
"Republican women say the feminist head-scratching about Mrs. Fiorina has brought to light a hypocritical aspect of the women’s movement. “They’re not really looking for equal representation — they’re looking for more Democratic women representation,” said Katie Packer, a Republican strategist, in a story published in the New York Times.
In a Sept. 18, essay at Cosmopolitan.com, Robin Marty concluded: “Carly Fiorina is the candidate I wanted Hillary Clinton to be.”
Marty told the New York Times "that for liberal feminists, cheering on Mrs. Fiorina was like eating at McDonald’s. 'You know, inherently, it’s not something you should be eating,' she said. 'But when there’s nothing else around, it’s what you go and take.'”
Fiorina may not succeed in changing Marty's commitment to abortion rights. But her classy, fearless approach will lead some voters to rethink their tolerance of Planned Parenthood and its partisan allies.
None of this will help Cecile Richards.